The case for treating radical belief as a psychiatric disorder

History has an awful track record with the government medicalizing alternate lifestyles, religious activity or political activism. There is very little to say about the habits of hard-line regimes and political systems putting “troublemakers’ in psychiatric institutions solely for the purpose of punishment and deterrence. For political activists the soviet union was a nightmare, as the soviet union used psychiatric medication, harsh institutionalization and isolation as terrifying means to make people fall in line. Idealists of whatever kind tend to find prisons and torture more acceptable than being put in a madhouse. The stigma makes the victim of such treatments less credible. But even the United States was not above using these treatments to enforce societal conformity – the US and many countries in Europe sent gay people and communists to mental care facilities as recent as the 1970s.

Right now Neoliberalism has created a society world-wide where we euphemistically apply “community treatment”, which is an euphemism for not making institutional or intensive psychiatric support available. This is at a time when society produces major pathologies in most western world citizens. Disparate societies produce mentally unhinged people. Modern society has significantly high rates of schizophrenia that familiar and intimate tribal societies, to the point that some low-stress societies regard these symptoms as a form of acceptable and integrated ‘spiritual’ exaltation.

Nonetheless as a modern society we have a major problem with (both) radical religions, and I would include both extremes of Christianity and Islam. Right now we live in a pluriform society where the idea of treating the persistently religious as crazy people, in whatever degree, would widely be deemed as unacceptable and taboo. Religion is an inalienable part of most countries and many moderates in any faith, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism (or even Atheist?) tend to at least know or have relationships with people of more insistent religious convictions. The moderate and the fundamentalist in society tends to be interwoven.

But in a country with mixed religions we have a completely new situation. There are cases when radicals have started attacking even moderate religious figures in the same religious system, whereas inter-religious violence and irreconcilable hostility has become something we universally take for granted as some kind of new perverse “normal”.

For some reason we institutionalize and medicate people who frequentlt say “insane things” but we are not willing to apply the same metric when the person making the statements is religious. The measure for regarding societally maladjusted behavior is inconsistently high.

The basic tenet is that people should have a high degree of freedom of expression, within the historical context of particular countries. In the US this freedom is paramount, whereas in Germany it has been democratically decided you simply can not discuss or say certain things. So if (pardon me the example) a muslim in Germany publicly says and repeats religiously inspired concepts uttering gays to be lower than pigs, we somehow accept this as “just an opinion”, whereas making the same statement about Jews would be a particularly sensitive topic.

If something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck mostly it tends to be a duck. If a person says universally insane and particularly violent things, regardless of the context, we might as well start a debate about our standards of regarding such a person insane, and if we then conclude after long deliberation we are not prejudiced towards that person, we might as well start regarding these ideas as a form of insanity.

Clearly I am thinking of Islam here. I know it is an offensive idea in the current political climate, but what good is it to wait until utterly and irreconcilably desocialized and persistently violent minorities actually degenerate in their predispositions to actual violence before we act? And what good does it then do to put these people in a prison for a long stretch of time? Prisons are places that assume a certain amount of free will and ability to self-reflect on part of the convicted criminal. Prisons are part society meting out punishment, and part about rehabilitation through the most merciful available penalty – confinement and suspension of freedom. There is plenty reason to assume someone who is crazy actually fares badly in prison.

But there is another philosophical stance to be considered here – we must as a society be merciful when someone acts in a criminally insane manner. If someone is a rapist we are actually willing to consider the very idea such a person might not be accountable, and we might conclude a person with a predisposition to rape might be somehow mentally impaired.

So why don’t we start looking closely at people who consistently express their religion as a means to distance themselves from the rest of modern society, who consistently try to spread these predispositions to other people, who consistently urge their fellow predisposed towards objectively insane acts, violent acts and conceivably mass-murder. Can we fully hold religious or other extremists accountable? Why don’t we apply epidemiological standards and mercifully conclude we are treating with someone who is simply mad.

If we suddenly started to treat radical and violent Muslims as some sort of deranged minority, we might actually be acting mercifully. Maybe these people don’t really belong in prison, because they are in a mental state where they can’t fully understand the impact of their actions. Being crazy implies we regard the afflicted with mercy, and we don’t just dump such a person in a prison, or ferry him or her off to some kind of torture camp in whatever horrible place. I state that the time has come to start thinking of this particular flavor of religious radicalism as the kind of infectious mental disorder it is. I know similarly inclined religious groups, such as christians, won’t like this, because the same standards would then apply to their violent radicals as well, but where’s the problem in that?

In an extreme society we may conclude that there is a place for reasonable, nonviolent protest. In some cases there may even be a reason for violent protest in some cases of serious governmental negligence. In some cases we might even regard revolutions and prudent or sane.

But this is not the case for innately violent takfiri muslims, or innately violent wahhabi muslims, or innately violent salafists. These people were once reasonable and sane and thus morally accountable people. But as they were ensnared in an insular, cultist form of brainwashing they were made simply insane, and we as a society should not be ashamed to make this assessment.

* Lol, ragequit – ‘Kill the gays’ pastor has a pulpit-stomping meltdown after he’s booted from online fundraising